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Fair wages’ not fair to all

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, February 23, 2006

Having suffered the recent platitudes and pontifications of the living-wage cheerleaders, I feel compelled to play the hard-nosed conservative Scrooge that I am, and point out that a Notre Dame “living wage” will only hurt all parties involved. (Full disclosure: I am a student employee and am paid the minimum wage.)

Firstly, if we ratchet up workers’ pay higher than the market says they’re worth, the University, as a rationally self-interested organization, will simply find ways to replace many of them with machinery that can get the job done more cheaply. It won’t be as efficient as paying workers their market value, but it would still be more efficient than keeping a lot of overpaid workers. (All students working for the University for under $11 an hour, take note.) “A man’s due” is more accurately determined by market forces than by any one individual or minority.

Secondly, these pay raises will mean less money for future university investment in new research, facilities, faculty, dorms and so on. The University’s main purpose is to serve its students with the best learning environment possible, not to be a welfare agency. If many faculty and students feel otherwise, they can start a campus drive to subsidize workers’ wages. If we rich Notre Dame students would shrug at paying X more dollars a year for the employees, why don’t the “progressives” set an example and ante up? (Maybe we Scrooges will be inspired into action after our moral betters blaze the trail to Notre Dame’s version of the Great Society.) Anyway, a voluntary charity drive would be a lot more progressive than pricing most beginning ND employees out of a job.

One final note: Since we love Catholic doctrine, isn’t Catholicism about choosing to do the right thing, not being forced or forcing others to do the right thing? Let grinches like University President Father John Jenkins and the rest of us make our own choices – surely we’ll pay dearly for it in Purgatory if we are mistaken, but I rather expect the opposite. I’m just thankful that, at least in this lonely respect, the school administration is placing current and future students first, not a self-defeating agenda that only hurts most those it intends to help.

Alex ForshawsophomoreSt. Edward’s HallFeb. 22